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Monday, October 5, 2015
Lowering the Bar on Law School Admission
Nowhere is there a more unabashed elitism than in law school admissions. The highest ranking law schools even have a syrupy nickname ("T14"). Law schools in the U.S. are ruled with an iron fist by the American Bar Association, which is exceedingly choosy about who gets their stamp of approval, and why. And despite the myriad shades of personalities, skills, interests, experiences and intellect required to populate the massive pool of legal practitioners, success is still predicted largely by a single tool: the LSAT.

Research shows a connection between higher LSAT scores and bar passage rates. Students scoring in the highest percentiles can expect the uncoiling of fluffy, red carpets from top schools. I don't have time to unpack all my feelings about standardized tests, but I am not alone. Aptitude tests tend to be obvious markers of success. But the students who do well on them are usually benefitting from a litany of other privileges which are already setting them up to succeed in academics and beyond.

Still, the downturn in the market for law degrees over the past few years (a topic of many of my other posts), has caused some law schools to allegedly ease their admissions requirements. The trend seems to beg an ethical question: do law schools have an obligation to admit only the students with some plausible chance of passing the bar exam?

In some ways, the conundrum is no different from the one happening at the undergraduate level-even the Obama administration has jumped in to encourage universities to be transparent about graduation and post-graduate employment rates. But to what extent is the success of students really the responsibility of the school?

The hand-wringing doesn't seem to be grounded in concerns about student well-being. Law doesn't want to look bad-low bar-pass rates debase the profession at large. At the same time, law schools need to fill seats.

What's happening is an intersection of two dueling problems for the legal education industry: maintaining the requisite prestige while also meeting bottom line fiscal targets. The victor remains to be seen.

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